The 19th National Sports Festival (NSF) in Abuja, ended with so much controversies but with more positives to take home as well.
With over 10 sports competed in, Athletics was one of the key sports at the festival by virtue of not just the controversies attached to it, but the level of competitiveness, media attention it generated and some of the major upsets it produced.
In this regard, we’ve put together five talking points generated in athletics throughout the six-days competition.
5. Foreign based athlete’s right to compete
The first controversy before track and field began, was the questions raised by fans and pundits on the necessity and privileges foreign based athletes had in participating at the Games.
Delta State were responsible for this move, inviting and giving an all-expense paid trip to a hand full of athletes based outside the country to be flown from their various locations, in order to win an assured Gold medal for the State.
Athletes such as Ese Brume, Tobi Amusan, Chukwuebuka Enekwechi, Kelechi Nwanaga and Chidi Okezie, who have all represented the country at international championships and won medals in the process, and Mike Edwards a transferred British High Jumper with the best chance of winning his event.
While some pundits supported the move siting the fact it’ll help the growth of the sport by pushing home based athletes to give their best thereby creating major upsets, others felt it’ll deprive the local athlete’s genuine chances at making money from the festival.
This is because Delta state put a winning prize of #1million each for all Gold medallists, which would have been a great opportunity for some of these home grown athletes to be rewarded for their efforts during the year.
The twist to this controversy is should there really be a diversification between foreign and home grown athletes when it comes to competitions in Nigeria? Why shouldn’t foreign athletes also have rights to compete and make money from domestic championships not just continental or international ones?
However, the other side of this tossed coin is that enough support is not being given to home grown athletes; so why spend more on travelling and accommodation expenses to those outside when the extra cash can be geared as winning bonuses for the home athletes?
4. Abuja and spectator attendance – A long way to go
The crowd attendance inside the main bowl during the race days was extremely poor and not encouraging. From the opening to the closing ceremony, the stadium was only filled with a section of athletes, officials from the different states and media representatives.
A festival of that magnitude which is mostly termed ‘Nigerian Olympics’, should have had the stadium buzzing with spectators and crowd control, most especially with the fact that the last edition was held by Lagos in 2012.
The poor attendance and no entertaining extra activities, made the championship boring when there are no races or events to watch.
This puts in perspective that though Abuja is a great host city with magnificent stadium, easy means of transportation and good hotels for accommodation, a lot still needs to be done on engaging the residents to imbibe sporting culture through ‘sportainment’, which greatly improves marketability and business side of sports.
Abuja has everything in place to organise a continental or world class sporting fiesta such as the IAAF World Championships. But without spectators which is an integral part of sports championships, this expectation can only be a mirage.
3. Organisation, average
The technical department of Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), gets an average overall performance on the organisation throughout the days of the competition.
Average because there were some positives where they got everything right, and there were some hiccups that should have been prevented or totally avoided in this present age of athletics organisation.
Starting with the positives, the events schedule and keeping to time for were prompt asides the first day which there was a little delay and time change. Secondly, official results were given to the media without much delay, and other technicalities that makes for a good championship were very good.
Throughout the competition days, the readiness of the officials at working were top notch, equipment’s used, and even the medical team were right on time for emergency cases.
While this makes for a good score, one cannot forget the flaws as well. To start with, all the records set in the throws events can be easily challenged cos there wasn’t any ITO or ATO to verify the weight and proper dimensions of the implements used before the start of the events, and even when it was confirmed that records had been set.
It may sound as if it’s of little significance, but it’s standard practice that all implements are weighed in and checked before they’re brought out to be used which wasn’t the case at the festival.
Secondly,it’s rather sad that at these day and age,the technical department couldn’t get Plasticine to be used for the jumps and instead the officials resorted to using sand mixed in water.
The Pole vault was another flaw entirely! The national stadium doesn’t have a complete set of Pole vault jumping upright which is appalling. The contraption put up posed danger to the athletes, as they were told to stop midway once a winner was established.
This led to the decathletes competing in just 9 events excluding the Pole vault, but the technical official still preferred to score the whole ten events knowing fully well Pole vault was an excluded event. This wasn’t entirely the fault of the officials as they had to make do with what they had.
For these reasons, we’ll rate the technical organisation 50%. Do you think they deserve a better rating or lower?
2. Allowances ‘wahala’
In any athletics championship in Nigeria, one thing is always certain as paying taxes – Allowances ‘wahala’.
Athletes are always faced with the lamentation of non-payment or refusal of funding their allocated allowances either pre, during or post championship.
The 19th NSF wasn’t an exception, as a huge number of the participating athletes lamented their state’s refusal to pay their daily and competition allowance with the common excuse of no funds available.
Some of the leading states such as Rivers are huge culprits of this, as all their athletes left Abuja without a single kobo in their account, with the promise that they’ll be duly paid in the coming days.
This brings the question on why there can’t be a permanent solution to allowances. Is it just too hard for athletes to be paid ahead or during competition days so they can have maximum concentration and produce their best performance?
As it stands, we may never see the end of this as long as Nigeria athletics is concerned.
1. Upsets – Highlight of the Games
Upsets are the brightening flavours during any sports championship around the world. They not just highlight the championship, but create the wow moments that’ll be talked about for years to come.
Athletics provided some of the major upsets at Abuja 2018, as four unexpected winners emerged under the flood lights on the track of the magnificent stadium.
In the men’s 100m, Usheoritse Itsekiri was not considered a potential medallist after having a season full of so many down moments than ups. But after his Heat race where he ran a Personal Best (PB) and fastest time of 10.31s, he laid down the gauntlet of his intentions to win.
The semis saw him with another PB of 10.29s, before sealing his dominance in the final dropping his PB again to 10.27s. Doing this, he defeated the country’s current joint second fastest in the event, Ogho Egwero and Enoch Adegoke.
David Olowokere, has been a consistent hurdler throughout the season and came to Abuja as a medal favourite. But no one expected the surprise package he brought in, winning the 400mH title in a PB of 51.07s which stands as a new Festival record.
His victory saw him defeat National Champion and Nigeria’s most dominant performer in the event for several years, Henry Okorie.
Margaret Bukola was a household name in the sprints in late 2000’s, until a frightening injury laid her off for over 7 years.
However, the dark skinned sprinter made a huge comeback by winning the 100m title over favourite and defending champion, Peace Uko.
What’s most interesting about the upset is that Bukola, qualified for the final as one of the fastest losers and ran on lane 1, but she made a big statement outrunning the stacked field shattering her Personal best by clocking 11.45s.
One of the biggest upsets in Nigeria athletics history was created by youth sensation from Akwa-Ibom, Nse Imaobong Uko after winning the women’s 400m in 52.36s.
Uko’s heroic performance isn’t just because she won, but to the fact that she did it as an U15 and defeated more experienced veterans to claim the illustrious title.
Also her time currently stands as an U15 world best when ratified by IAAF, with the present record being 52.52s by USA’s Kayla Davis.
These upsets have surely thrown the gates open for a brilliant and entertaining 2019 Nigeria Athletics track season, as no one is assured of the win until the one who crosses the finish line first.